Authors: MaryJanice Davidson
"For bullshit. The stories aren't all true—we've managed to hang onto our souls. Why can't we stay individuals? Why don't we turn the goddamned lights on? Why are you all wearing black? Why do you all look like extras from a B-movie vampire set?"
Nostro flinched at "God," just like Shanara had, but other than that, he was completely unmoved by my rallying cry.
"Enough," he said, because a few of the others were looking at me with surprise and not a little curiosity. "I hate to use a cliché..."
"...but you're either with us, or with Sinclair. Which is it?"
"Neither! I think you're both creeps." As soon as it was out of my mouth I knew I'd gone too far. He lunged for me, crossing the six or seven feet between us in a blink, his hands going to my throat, closing off my air. Which would have been a huge problem if I'd needed to breathe more than a few times a minute.
On cue, the horde descended on us. There were too many of them to do me much damage; all I really saw (and felt) was a flurry of fists. Nostro released his grip and I heard him say, "The pit for her!"
The horde bore me away. I didn't try to fight—why bother? The odds were thirty-to-one. Instead I focused on keeping my feet, which was tough because they were sweeping me along so fast and furiously my toes were barely skimming the floor.
Down, down, down the stairs we went, and before I could so much as get a look at the room I was flying through the air, from darkness to more darkness. And someone came down into the darkness with me.
The someone was a girl. Well, she could have been a hundred years old for all I knew, but she looked as if she'd be carded for buying cigarettes. Although it was quite dark in the pit, my undead eyeballs were working just great, and I could make out her delicate, pale features: sharp chin, high cheekbones, and big dark eyes. Pansy eyes, I think they're called, large and pretty and fringed with beautifully sooty lashes. We stood in the pit together and stared at each other. She looked so young, so fresh; if she'd whipped out a pair of pom-poms and started cheering I wouldn't have been surprised.
Instead, she dropped to her knees and bowed so low her forehead was scraping the pit's bottom. "Majesty, I beg your forgiveness...I couldn't help you upstairs, there were too many of them."
"Get up, don't call me that, and don't sweat it. Jeez, will you get up? This floor is disgusting." I shifted tentatively; yup. My shoes were definitely sticking. It was like being in a movie theater after a midnight showing of
The Rocky Horror Picture Show
. "Seriously: get up." I bent, seized her arm, pulled her upright.
She looked away from me, then shyly glanced back. "I can't. Could you call Elizabeth the Second 'Betsy'?"
"Well, no," I admitted, "although someone probably should. And I'm not the queen."
"Not yet," she said mysteriously.
I let that pass. "Where are we? I mean, why am I down here? Is this like the dungeon?"
"If only, Majesty. The Master keeps his Fiends down here. Even now he is rushing to pull the lever. The cage doors will go up, and the Fiends will be upon us."
"Well, that's a helluva note." I was a little nervous, but not out-and-out terrified. Not yet. I found the cheerleader extremely interesting. Why did she jump in with me? And why did she have the idea in her head that I was a queen? I wasn't even a Leo. "The walls are pretty steep in here...I'm betting this is so we don't have time to climb out. Any suggestions?"
"Yes." The cheerleader was digging in her jeans pocket and came up with a small, thickly padded envelope, the kind you mail discs in. She practically threw it at me, so anxious was she to get rid of it. "For you. Only you can wield this."
"Uh...thanks. Gee, I don't have anything for you." I opened the envelope and peeped inside. And smiled. I upended the envelope and felt the cool gold chain slide into my hand. It was a beautiful gold cross on a chain so fine even I, with my super orbs, had trouble seeing it. I put it on, feeling the teensy clasp with my fingers and getting it hooked around my neck after a few seconds of fumbling. "Thanks a lot. I left mine at home."
"This is why you're the queen. Or you will be. You were foretold, you know."
"No I don't know...and who are you, anyway?"
"Thank goodness!" I said so loudly she stepped back. "No silly-ass overdone names for you, m'girl."
"It's short for Christina Caresse Chavelle."
"Well, you did the best you could."
I heard a creaking noise just then, a really obnoxious one; it was like hinges clotted with dirt were turning in torturous slowness. The sound made me want to clap both hands over my ears. I didn't, though. No need to start losing coolness points with Tina who had, after all, jumped into a pitch-dark pit with me and brought me a present. "What the heck is that?"
"The gate is going up. The Fiends are out." Tina said this in a perfectly placid tone, but she was nibbling at her lower lip. "Don't be afraid."
"Are you talking to me, or yourself?"
"Both," she admitted. She glanced up at me—boy, she was tiny. Barely up to my shoulder, and just as cute as a bug. "They will come at you but over my body, Majesty."
I tried not to laugh. "Thank you, Tina, but that's not very Queen-ey, is it?
Cowering behind someone smaller?"
There was a rushing noise, like wind through capes, and I saw their eyes in the dark, little sullen coals. I counted ten coals. Clearly the pit had an entrance, other than the top. But the other end was blocked, or the Fiends would be gamboling out in the moonlight like big evil puppies. If we dealt with them (big freaking if), we'd have time to climb out, but what then?
Tina stepped in front of me just as the first fiend reached us. For once I was sorry I could see so well in the dark. They were vaguely human—like the devil is vaguely human. Although they had two legs, they scrabbled about on all fours. Their hair was, to a man (or a woman...their sex was indistinguishable), long and lank and kept flopping into their eyes. Their mouths were all fangs: toothy and sharp and terrifying to contemplate. Their cheeks were so hollow they'd be the envy of any supermodel. They were wearing rags, unbelievably filthy and pitiful rags, and tho' they were there to put the hurt on me, I felt a stab of sympathy all the same. These things were Nostro's pets, and he wasn't taking good care of them.
"Back off, boys," I said, my voice booming around the small walls. "You don't want to mess with an out-of-work secretary. We're real testy."
The Fiends cringed away from me, but I doubt it was because of my threat. And I suddenly realized I could see a lot better than a few seconds ago.
The cross. The cross around my neck was glowing.
Not much. Not blazing with a pure white light like they do in the movies. The glow was feeble and yellowish and the cross wasn't burning me, wasn't even warm, but the Fiends couldn't bear it. Neither could Tina; she'd thrown her arms over her face.
"Wait a minute!" The hair...the scrabbling motions...the way they were more animal than human...I knew these things. "You attacked me! You guys attacked me outside Kahn's last fall!" I wanted to fall down. I wanted to kick them in their evil ribs. It was a shocking idea, unbelievable, but I suddenly knew how I'd come to be a vampire. These...
...had infected me. Then along came the Aztek a few months later, and whatever the Fiends had put into my bloodstream from the scratches and nips had become active.
Was that why most anti-vamp things didn't work on me? Because I didn't die by a vampire's hand, I'd only been infected by one? Or five?
I shook myself like a dog to get my head clear—I'd been standing there like a dummy, my mouth sprung ajar, but this wasn’t the time. The Fiends were still cringing away from me, from the cross. I knew now why Nostro had thrown me down here—these ornery little fellas would have torn a regular newborn vamp to pieces. There but for the bravery of Tina would I be kibble for the Fiends.
"Get out of here," I said softly, and took a step forward. They scuttled back, then turned and fled.
"Come on, shortcake," I said. "Let's get out of this fucking hole. And I've got a few choice words for your boss."
"Nostro isn't my boss," Tina said. I tucked the cross into my shirt and she slowly lowered her arms. "You are."
"We'll talk about it later. Come on."
It was short work for us to climb out of the pit. The walls were made of brick, and there were plenty of vampire-friendly crevices. Nobody was standing guard—Nostro was pretty confident we'd been chomped, then. Tina knew the back way out, and I followed her. I had a rather large problem with her next suggestion, though.
"No fucking way!"
"—it's for your safety. Sinclair must know what Nostro tried to do. And what he could not do. This is the chance to band together and defeat him once and for all. If you join Sinclair, Nostro will be destroyed."
"I hate that creep."
"Both, frankly, but especially that snooty jerkoff, Sink Lair."
"Well." I had the sense Tina was choosing her words carefully. "If you help us defeat Nostro, you will be the reigning queen. You could order the jerkoff to leave town."
"Now that's a little more like it. Although I have no queen qualifications."
"Untrue," she said quietly. "I saw. You were foretold."
We were driving steadily south. Some fool had left his keys in a handy unlocked Lexus, so we climbed in and off we went. I didn't feel terribly bad—served him right for living in a vampire neighborhood, anyway. Probably
a vampire. Besides, I'd leave the car in a safe place, and have Marc or Jessica call the owner. After what I'd been through this week, it was tough to break a sweat over a little grand theft auto.
"Foretold," I said, clutching the armrest as Tina took the turn nearly on two wheels. "You said that before."
"There's a book. We—vampires—call it the
. The book of the dead. A thousand years ago, vampires knew you were coming
. 'A Queen shall ryse, who has powyer beyond that of the vampyre. The thyrst shall not consume her, and the cross never will harm her, and the beasts will befryend her, and she will rule the dead
.'" Tina nodded in satisfaction.
"My!" I coughed. That bit about the beasts...it explained the dogs. During the short walk to the car, every dog in the neighborhood had broken free and come to see me. Tina was wide-eyed while I swore and scolded and tried to gently boot them away. When we drove off they were barking enthusiastically at our taillights. Real subtle getaway. "What a lovely story."
Tina didn't crack a smile. "That's you, Majesty. You're the first vampire in a thousand years who could hold a cross without screaming or throwing up or being burned. Nostro threw holy water in your face and you laughed. You laughed." She said this in a tone of complete admiration. "The dogs do your will—"
"The hell they do. They never leave when I tell them to. Just lick my ankles and slobber on my shoes. My shoes!"
She quirked a little curl of a smile at me. "They don't leave because they know you're not truly angry with them. They just want to be near you. Best get used to it."
"Super." And here I figured I'd had a lot to think about in the pit! Tonight was blowing all my circuits. "If that's true, if I'm the foretold SuperVamp, how come you're the only one who knows it? Why were you the only one who came in the pit with me? And thank you a thousand times, by the way. That was really brave. I didn't know what I was getting into, but you did, and you came down anyway." I touched her shoulder. "Thanks a lot. If you need a favor, sunshine, you come and see me first."
She gave me the biggest smile I'd ever seen. "Oh, Majesty, it was nothing! It was the very least I could do for you! If I could have gone in the pit alone, I would have." The smile disappeared as quickly as it had shown up. "As to your question, the reason I was the only one to come with you is because Nostro's followers are a pack of fucking cowards."